Government is meant to serve justice, and when justice is served by the government, then its authority is to be accepted and followed. However, when government fails at its duty, when it promotes injustice in the name of justice, when it establishes laws which invalidate justice, then its laws are no laws, its authority is to be denied, and indeed, its leaders are to be condemned. The common good is to be served by the government, not the good of the officials at the expense of the people.
The prophets made it clear that when justice is rejected, the judgment from the Lord, the true source of justice, will be proclaimed, and those who claim authority in the midst of such injustice will suffer the consequences of their sins. This is why Ezekiel said the judgment of the Lord was upon the princes of Israel:
Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. You have despised my holy things, and profaned my sabbaths. There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and men in you who eat upon the mountains; men commit lewdness in your midst (Ezek. 22:6-9 RSV).
Justice is to be promoted, and all duplicity aimed to justify that which is unjustifiable is to be properly critiqued and rejected. Such justifications are to be mocked for what they are, empty words being used to deceive wayward travelers, traps set up by the wicked to lure people away from the good. But as the prophet Jeremiah preached, the Lord sees and knows what is being done. The Lord sees and knows the harm done to the common good and to the least among the people thanks to the siren-calls the wicked elite use to justify their avaricious gains. The Lord will avenge the people afflicted by such evil:
For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. Like a basket full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of wickedness; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? says the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this? (Jer. 5:26-29 RSV).
For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen; because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence. Their partiality witnesses against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil upon themselves. Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have done shall be done to him. My people — children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths. The LORD has taken his place to contend, he stands to judge his people. The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” says the Lord GOD of hosts (Isa. 3:8 – 15 RSV).
When our leaders establish an evil policy which counters the ways of the Lord’s justice, we have a choice to make. We will either follow the Lord, or we will join in with the evil promoted by our leaders and find ourselves condemned our complacency. “Seek the LORD and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, O you who turn justice to wormwood, and cast down righteousness to the earth!” (Amos 5:6-7 RSV).
When those in charge of our turn away from the common good, they look to the common people as the means by which they can help elevate their own private good. Instead of working for all, they find ways to divert resources to themselves, running the government like a business while proclaiming that those who deny their authority are lawless and must be punished. They are the lawless ones, having rejected the natural law of justice. When they have no problems raping the land in order to harvest a bounty for themselves, they should be treated not as officials but as lawbreakers who have violated the responsibility given to them. They should be punished according to the level of authority they have been given, for the more one has been given, the more justice is expected for them.